Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Whi Bi and better things

My friend who loves food and art was in town visiting this past weekend. She planned the trip a while back and so I was waiting to go see the Whitney Biennial when she was in town. (Being from the lover/collector/seller side of the art world I thought she would provide a good sounding board).

We found our way up to the Whitney in the middle of big thunderstorms that were blowing through the city. That should have been a portent... As we were waiting for the elevator I jokingly said, "What are the chances that this is worse than I am expecting?" I was kidding. Really I was! I thought well, it will be not as bad or just as bad, but there is no way - no way - that it can be worse...

Wanna bet?

It is miles beyond worse than I expected. Even the most excoriating reviews couldn't voice all that is wrong with it, even when it is written in three different parts. It just seems hard to put into words all that is wrong with it. I won't do a deluge of repeating what has already been so eloquently said, my take away was 'a jumble of half formed ideas.' (And even then most of those weren't even well crafted!)

Just so you know I didn't just make all this up without having seen the show, there were a couple of artists who - given more room - stand out...

Jennie Smith - delicate and fanciful drawings of creatures (some recognizable, more that are strange amalgams or fantasies) filled with life and energy as they progress across or up the paper.

Florian Maier Achen - large scale chromogenic prints which are manipulated (colorwise). These contemporary landscape photos create a vertiginous sense of scale and depth.

Jordan Wolfson - (many critics didn't like this) the video of the signing of the speech from Charlie Chaplin's The Great Dictator. (Text of the speech). Its a beautiful and emotional speech, which when rendered in sign language by a man whose head is cut off from the viewer, becomes an empty promise (except to the select audience that can read the rapid fire signing). It is a plaintive and silent cry.

Robert Pruitt - his carefully rendered drawings are a powerful commentary on race and social politics.

And that's it. We saw other shows in Chelsea the following day which are far more interesting to comment on, so I will --

I knew I could get some sure fire hits at two of my favorite galleries (Morgan Lehman and Roebling Hall), and while we did visit others along the way, these two did not disappoint!

Morgan Lehman was showing the obsessive (you know I like that!) works of John Salvest, which include a large wall installation of business cards which spells out "Remember Me," a first aid kit filled with stacks of pills laid out to form the American flag, and a specimen box of 70 pieces of chewed gum, sorted into little magnifying boxes. I found the work, intriguing and clever, it has the strange aura of collecting the unwanted (and makes me think of the fabled old woman in an apartment with huge piles of books, newspapers and trinkets which fill the space), and comes across also as a fidgeting distraction. By focusing on the mundane, he allows himself to ignore greater issues or interactions.

We stopped by to see the Joe Fig show at Plus Ultra that I had already seen, and of course popped into Schroeder Romero to see the group show Double Take - where I was allowed to leaf through Wendy Small's fantastic photograms of ethereal and pulsatingly colorful dream worlds created by condoms. (Which, if you missed my birthday - and clearly you did - you could still pick one of these up for me, since they are being offered at an incredibly good price).

The final stop was the incredibly powerful work of Deborah Grant at Roebling Hall. Ms. Grant is showing "paintings" which are essentially a set of massively detailed ink drawings executed on wood that is cut out in the shape of images from Guernica (the title of the show, "A Gin Cure" is an anagram). The work references all of the aspects of ones life - political, social, religious, - and the works come across as personal and accessible. There is humor, irony, anger and beauty contained within the tiny drawings which cover every inch of the wood pieces. (The picture at the top of the post is from the current show). As my friend remarked after looking at the work "Why isn't this in the Biennial?"

Ms. Grants work (and the show itself) encompassed all of the things that were missing from the Whi Bi - obsessively well crafted, finely honed, politically and socially important, art historically referential, but in an accessible way, and presented in a powerful and enigmatic presentation which allowed the work to really come through in all of its strength.

I just want to state again that the Whi Bi has a great opportunity to return to its roots, to forget about the overarching curatorial voice and really survey the work being done by American artists. Undoubtedly with that kind of survey there will be themes and schools which emerge more, well, naturally. This would provide a far more interesting view of the "American" point of view and the evolution of art movements.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Sex sells... even in abstract art

Last night I attended CUE Art Foundation's Meeting Artists' Needs VIII. Becoming an Entrepreneur: Marketing Tips for Artists, presented by John Zinsser, who co-founded of the Journal of Contemporary Art, has had solo exhibitions at Stark Gallery (NYC), Thomas Solomon'’s Garage (L.A.) and Galerie Von Lintel (Munich), amongst others. (blurb from CUE site).

Let me first explain my point of view when attending these types of lectures/workshops. I tend to be pretty well informed about most of the professional practices of the arts (marketing, contracts, residencies, grants,opportunities, etc), so I usually attend these lectures expecting to A) reconfirm what I already know B) maybe pick up a few gems of knowledge that might enhance what I already know. Mostly I have pretty low expectations in gaining any real insights. (But am still thankful that they are organized and presented for artists who don't know a lot of this already).

Last night, upon taking a seat each attendee found two sheets of paper. One was a standard survey asking the attendee for feedback on the event. The second was a list, in large typeface of "25 Marketing Tips for Artists, by John Zinsser." Reading through the list produced lots of eye rolls, groans and feelings of annoyance (you'll see why as you read the list).

Here's the interesting part though, as uncharitable as I was feeling towards Mr. Zinsser and his list, he managed to mostly win me over. His extemporaneous presentation was clever, witty and filled with nice little gems of information. Some of the information is a little dated for an artist starting out now (they seem to have worked in the past, but may not anymore), but most of it is spot on good advice for 2006 and beyond. And despite the woman next to me who snoozed through most of the presentation, I found most of what he had to say engaging and presented in a knowledgeable way - although not without some irony. Without further ado, the list (with paraphrases of what Mr. Zinsser discussed in blue; my comments in red):

1. Be Yourself.
This one is pretty self explanatory. Its why you become an artist.
2. Don't be yourself.
Why not reinvent your public persona. Design your own fictional character to become.
3. Go to openings.
Ugh. Can think of a lot of yucky things I would rather do, but it is a good opportunity to meet other artists and talk to artists' whose work you admire (Mr. Zinsser's point). My own advice, don't be an opening whore, but do find artists and/or galleries you want to support and do go to their openings, and you know, show your support.
4. Print a business card.
Duh, this is such a no brainer and so easy to do. (If you don't know how, get in touch with me and I will help). Zinsser talked about fashioning it after an old style calling card. Just your name imprinted on a card. Then you write the info you want to share on the card (which is good if you move a lot). I like this idea a lot. Currently I have the 'collectors series' which has a different image of my work on each one, but I am liking the name only thing, has some snob appeal which I greatly appreciate.
5. Choose a "uniform."
Zinsser wanted to point out that having a recognizable 'look' is only a benefit.
6. Meet other artists.
He's talking about a peer group here. Maybe its a group with whom you share styles, so that you develop a movement (hello all my synthetic naturalist friends!), or a group with whom you can learn, grow, bitch and moan.
7. Befriend mentors.
Find elder more experience artists/educators from whom you can learn and grow.
8. Work for an artist.
You can learn skills, meet people and if the artist you work for is generous hearted, maybe make some inroads.
9. Work for a gallery.
Zinsser was asserting that this was a good way to understand and get involved in the gallery aesthetic. Unfortunately more and more (as I have heard from people I know) working in a gallery can be little use, and sometimes even work against you. You get pegged as the person who works in the gallery and are never taken seriously as an artist.
10. Review shows for magazines.
Although there may be those who disagree, I have to agree with Zinsser. Not only do you get to see shows, meet gallerists and artists, it improves your ability to speak about art.
12. Organize shows using alternative venues.
How many times have I told y'all to do this??? Oh, once or twice.
13. Make posters for streets.
Yeh its illegal, but I bet you do a lot that's illegal and don't think twice about it (speeding? double parking?) It is an interesting way to put work out there. I reserve it for my street specific work, but there's no reason not to do it for any type of art work. And hey, you could cover up some of the repulsive advertising that is out there on the walls already.
14. Write letters.
Mr. Zinsser points out that A) artists aren't rockstars, they are only famous in our little world. So, why not get in touch with one. And if you want to stand out, then write a letter! It's such a shocking thing to do that you will be noticed. Ex-Seattle Dad wrote a letter to Eric Fischl and sent slides and he got back this mostly prosaic, but also helpful review of his work. I think that is great! Now, who to stalk...
15. E-mail people.
But make it personal, mass emails may be somewhat helpful in promoting your work, but personalized ones will get people to respond.
16. Blog.
Duh. It keeps you thinking about your work and others, and gets feedback (sometimes nice, sometimes nasty, but always entertaining). Bet as soon as he found out I was a blogger he could guess this was coming. He brought up the blog
17. Create a website.
Why would you not.
18. Make compelling work.
Yeh, I wondered why this wasn't number one. And Zinsser argues it quite well and unfortunately, I am afraid he may be true. Compelling work is great and all that, but it doesn't guarantee you success.
19. Say something outlandish.
20. Say something scandalous.
21. Create scandal.
All of these are about being noticed and memorable.
22. Sex sells.
Even in abstract art where Mr. Zinsser claims (yes, tongue in cheek) "the sublimated libido enters the material."
23. Believe the market.
The art that sells is the art that sells, whether you are making that kind of art or not. Mr. Zinsser doesn't think there will be a crash in the market because "for the wafer thin level of the super rich, art is the only thing with which they can define themselves and their money."
24. Don't be bitter.
I so agree with Mr. Zinsser on this (and I know JT does too). Yeh, you may not be young enough, male enough, white enough, urban enough, or whatever. Who cares - you are making art! That is so so cool in and of itself. There are so many people who never ever figure out what they really love. If you are pursuing this, and have given up things for it (money, comfort, food, free time), then you are passionate about something and doing something you love. There is an amazing freedom in that. So really there is no reason at all to be bitter. Ever. Period. (and my rants are not veiled bitterness - really!)
25. Let fate be.
You cannot force things to happen they will happen as and when they do.

There were lots of bon mots in the conversation, which I wish I had noted. One had something to do with being obsessive compulsive (I am, are you?) and how as an artist "you spend a little too much time with yourself and you become compulsive, paranoid..."

There was also an interesting argument posed by a Russian artist in the audience, unfortunately I couldn't understand much of what she was saying, but she seemed to be trying to argue that 'real artists' don't do most of the things on the list. Zinsser roundly disagreed, as I would too.

It was a fun evening, one of the Brooklyn College artists was behind me telling their ongoing tale, I wish I had a chance to talk to her but she left before I did.

I also met Sky's friend Tom, who is having an open studio at PS 122 this weekend. Go see it.

Otherwise, come on out to Clinton Hill to see the big Open Studios event happening out here this weekend.

And a word of warning, I am going to the Biennial tomorrow. Which means you will have to be gentle with me over the next few days as I absorb it all...(aren't y'all impressed I put it off for so long?)

If I had a way to contact Zinsser (I don't) I would ask him for additional comments or clarifications to ensure he and his point of view are well represented.

The images have absolutely nothing to do with the content of this posting. They are my work, and I just thought a visual break in all this text would be nice.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Keeping myself busy

I have really good excuses for not having posted lately. I've been busy.

Still trying to get settled into the new apartment. We divided the bedroom in half, so that I could use part of it for the clean part of my artwork - drawings, computer stuff, slides, sewing. The half bedroom is going to be for the messy work, but it still has boxes in it. We put up some shelves, and I already filled them, and I still have a lot of stuff to sort through. Until that gets cleaned up though, I won't be able to put together the layers of the large drawings.

When not sorting through boxes (which I don't really spend much time doing) I have been working on the large drawings themselves (which is what I have mostly been doing). My friend Sky (her drawings are pictured in this post) and I made a pact with each other to have a strong portfolio of drawings finished by the end of June. I am way behind and these huge drawings can take a really really long time to get through - but I am still enjoying working on them, and hope to develop a fairly large body of work from them. I will post some pictures when I get them all layered together (originally I was going to latex them together, but now I am thinking soft gel medium - I need something to put on the trace that will stick the layers together and increase the transparency - anyone have any suggestions?)

I am putting together a list of powerful, empowering and emotional words for another piece I am working on. If you have suggestions please add them in the comments. I will update the list from time to time. Here's what I am working with so far:
fear, hate, love, endear, spirit, embrace, charm, spirit, light, heaven, hell, life, death, anger, joy, mock, mimic, entreaty, pathos, empathy, sympathy, pity, emote, power, strength, believe, hope, peace, war, might, sublime, kill, maim, birth, delight, savage, paradise, utopia, arcadia, absolute, dream, truth, lies, wealth, poor, honesty, clarity, wisdom, harmony, charity, freedom, kindness, inspiration, grace, confidence, energy, vitality, serenity, creativity, success, happiness, persistence, purpose...
I have also been trying to work out a good type of work to do that is entirely based on my own scheduling whims. I figured out yoga or other physical instructor; contractor of some kind (although I don't have any sale-able skills); web contractor (already doing that); or maybe writer (mmm probably not). Anyone have any ideas? Anyone want to hire me? I am super capable, and goal oriented...

Also been spending a lot of time in my head. Things I have been annoyed about:
1) Politics, politicians. Pretty much everyone and everything happening is annoying. (I have come to the conclusion that the media and mass communications are partly to blame. Instead of standing up for any real beliefs and letting voters judge them by their actions, politicians now bend in the prevailing winds, dictated by polls and media coverage).
2) The Brooklyn College FIASCO, now a lot of the artwork is damaged far beyond repair, or even better completely missing. Way to go assholes. If I was at that school I would quit immediately. I hope the students don't give this up and get some of those idiots fired. They are doing the worst job ever.
3) Eminent domain, New York City/stupid development. Its just embarrassing. Atlantic Yards, the Yankee Stadium, Fordham University, and a motor way development (gasp!) in Staten Island. Just who are these shortsighted greedy pigs? Why would anyone, I mean anyone, not whole heartedly embrace Livable Streets, rooftop gardens and green architecture. I can't even wrap my head around it. I think my brain is going to explode. I wish the Sierra Club had their latest newsletter online, it covers a lot of this.
4) The pedophilia and sexism in the artworld. Why is it that my list of artists I love is 80% females (and I think I am missing a few recent ones) and female gallerists show pathetically fewer than that? Pretty sure that in my list are some are in their late 20's, most are in their 30's and a few are 40's and 50's. Like a commenter (who's comment I can't find), when I was in grad school (the first time) it was a rarity for students to be courted by galleries, and now it is the norm? We were expected to begin our journey in grad school and then spend years in solitude developing and honing our skills. Many went to Skowhegan, some stayed in NYC enjoying sporadic curator visits (mostly from non-profits for group shows). And I hate Charlie Finch too, except when he is rewritten.
5) Print journalistm versus bloggers. I don't know many bloggers who make many claims about what they are writing as being codified in anyway, but I much prefer reading the bloggers (although I like Saltz, and think Gopnik is funny), because their musings seem more real,distilled through thoughtful minds. It also lets me find someone with whom I might share tastes and thoughts who I can rely on for good reviews or someone who is reporting on things not covered by the mass media. (To be fair, there are plenty here who roundly support blogging and all its foibles).

I am sure there are more, but I am getting 'all het up' and should stop and get back to drawing...

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

NYC Art (mis)Handler

I first heard about the Parks Department closing down of the Plan B show of Brooklyn College MFA students from bloggy. I desperately searched for the email address of Julius Spiegel, the Brooklyn Borough Parks Commissioner (to no avail) so that I could send an email about how shockingly disappointing (paraphrase) this action is. I have since been following the goings on at the blog by the students involved, Plan C(ensored). Turns out I should have just gone straight to the top and written an email to Mayor Bloomberg.

This whole debacle has been shameful. The exhibit was closed due to some criticism regarding the display of some sexually explicit artwork in a public forum. What puritanism. This reminds me a little too much of the debate regarding the Drawing Center as part of the new WTC complex. It was argued that they shouldn't be a part of the complex because they hosted politically challenging and controversial shows. All of this stinks of the belief that those who question their government are not patriotic. It is all the culture of keeping quiet about everything, don't question those in power, and let's not talk openly about politics, gender, race and sexuality. This is the beginning of the downfall of culture.

Turns out that now the very people who should be protecting the student's freedom of speech (the administration) have been sleazy and sneaky - removing the work without notice and canceling a meeting with the provost, thereby silencing them. The good news is that the faculty council just voted to support the student's right to freedom of expression. I don't know if they can get the work back into the War Memorial at this point, and there's no turning this thing around, but I hope that people start to realize how important our civil liberties are.

Here's my email to Bloomie:
During a national crises of erosion of civil liberties, it is shocking that New York city - a world cultural center - should take part in squashing freedom of expression. In a move similar to the removal of the Drawing Center from the WTC complex, you have chosen once again to side with those who would rather not open their eyes and ears to conflicting or controversial ideas. I am ashamed to think that the Mayor of such a proud and diverse city would take a stand against artists wishing to explore the various facets of our modern culture - including politics, sexuality, race and gender. Please reconsider your decisions and remember that a patriot, one who really loves their country, is one who is willing to stand up to those in power and question them, and the power of the intellect is in being able to question that which is taken as a common belief or knowledge. How can we learn if we don't ask questions, spark discussions or provide a catalyst for controversy.

This has been a true example of trickle down politics... the good news is, remember how the attempts to close down 'Sensation' at the Brooklyn Museum by Giuliani increased interest in the show massively - they do say any press is good press.

And what is going to happen to the scheduled talk for the show:
Brooklyn College MFA Presents Thesis Exhibition 'Plan B' Panel Discussion: Questions Role of MFA in Today's Hyper Market-Driven Art World will feature such notable speakers as Walter Robinson, Editor-in-Chief of Artnet Magazine, Irena Popiashvili, Newman Popiashvili Gallery, and more at The Brooklyn College Art Gallery, located near the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge in downtown Brooklyn, 195 Cadman Plaza West, located betw Clark & Middagh Streets
And why have some of those speakers not spoken out?

UPDATE: As some of you may or may not know I tend to be quick to react to things, without neccessarily fully thinking that out. Edward_ Winkleman is exactly the opposite. He has a studied and carefully thought through reaction to the fiasco. Only I don't entirely agree with it. I do agree that the bulk of the blame has to rest squarely on the shoulders of those at the school who agreed to the rules about showing in this space (only showing family friendly works), and then not following up on these with the students or managing things well before and after the fact. BUT, I have a really big problem with there being rules on what can and cannot be shown to begin with. This is a show coming out of a university, the most sacred place of questioning and controversial thought. These rules should not have been put there (by the Park & Rec department), and the Bloomberg administration should not be standing behind them.

UPDATE: James Wagner has posted a wonderful editorial from the Riverdale Press regarding the ongoing BC events.

Other blogs and stories on the Plan B show: James Wagner, Barry Hogard, Newsday, NY Times, Crains, SeeArtMarket, NY Arts, NYC IndyMedia, Eyebeam, Metro, Edward_ Winkleman

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Chelsea gallery crawl - spring edition

First of all - woof! - its getting hot out there. When its too hot to wear the knee height doc martens, its just plain too hot. Don't know if my little SF wimpy character can survive another NYC summer. Ugh.

Okay, that's too much complaining already. Actually, in the shade it was pleasant, and really the summer weather is nice to walk from gallery to gallery, and even stop and enjoy a coffee in a cafe along the way. Wasn't that long ago that I was complaining about the cold and Chelsea heaters!

So we saw quite a bit, but only a few on which I want to remark.

The impressive show for the day was the Davor Vrankic show at The Proposition Gallery. First let me say that there is no way the images online or in the press or any reproduction whatsoever will do any justice at all to the work*. These were truly strange and disturbing imagery which had they been slick or glossy would have been really hard to take in. The thing that catches and holds the eye is the unbelievable and masterful hand which is evident in the creation of these works. They are finely crafted graphite on paper drawings. The distortion and lighting are fantastic and incredibly alluring. All made with distinct pencil marks on paper. If you haven't already, really you should go see this show. Let me know what you think.

On a lighter note and a pleasant escape was the Olafur Eliasson show at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery. Always one to play with light and spatial information, this show was a stylish showing by Eliasson. There are four pieces being shown - two worth seeing are the water/light refraction/reflection piece in the lower gallery and the mirror/light refraction/reflection piece in the upstairs gallery. Both pieces create patterns with light and shadow and let the viewer drift away in a kaleidoscope of shapes and shadows. The water piece is nicely affected by people moving about the gallery, causing shudders and waves to be cast along the curving walls of the piece.

We also stopped in to see the wonderful curiosities that are the sculptures of Joe Fig at Plus Ultra. It was a fascinating look inside artist's studios (I particularly liked the Julie Mehretu studio piece) and provided the wonderment of miniature. The concept of owning a Joe Fig reproduction of the studio of an artist I like is an interesting conceptual consideration.

Also took a moment to read over the funny and provocative "joint mission statement" outside Plus Ultra and Schroeder Romero. If you want to know more about it, let Edward_ tell you. (It's by William Powhida).

*Which is why I won't even bother to post an image here because it will pre-influence you. If you really want you can click on the links to the gallery, but don't. Just go see the show.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Thinking about a career change

I've always been enamored of design projects. I am an avid reader of Apartment Therapy, and I love the work of J Prichard and her delicious and intriguing organic installations that are frequently used as interior design. I enjoy well crafted and funky jewelry design like this.

So it was no surprise when at dinner recently, my friend K-Rocket suggested that I create works that were more design focused. "Heck," she said, "you ought to study architecture!" That got a laugh when I pointed out that, um, I did as an undergrad... (She said that explained a lot in my work).

So imagine my surprise (eat your heart out Pierson/Doonan!) when I saw a RUG (yes rug) in the ABC Carpets window that looked suspiciously like a felt project I had been wanting to do! (But hadn't yet of course). It was inspired by the funny little tubes that grow out of the base of a palm tree. I will upload a picture of the sketch when I find my sketch books (yeh, they are still packed). But I gotta say, its a cool rug!

Funny how often similar strains of thought occur during the same time period. I am especially not surprised given our current culture of information sharing and globalization.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Chocolate Heaven

Sorry to have been a little absent lately, last week we lost our kitty (of almost 16 years). For those who have had an animal for that long, you understand how difficult it can be. You find yourself missing their presence in everything you do. A friend said, "losing a pet is the hardest because their love is uncompromised."

Jordan, our chocolate black cat with minty green eyes has lived with me in 6 cities, and at least twice as many apartments. She was with me through good times and bad and brought me love, laughter and peace. She was the softest, silkiest cat I have ever touched. We sometimes called her puppy cat, because there were things she did (like meet us at the door) that were more like a dog. She loved taking walks in the garden, she loved playing with the neighbor dog, she loved sunshine, cuddling in bed, sleeping late and playing games. She was incredibly brave and strong through her illnesses of the past couple of years, always taking everything in her graceful stride.

I have learned more than I realize from her, and she has been by my side as I have grown and changed. She was a constant muse to me and always loved helping to create my artwork. She will always have a place in my heart. Even her passing is something from which I will learn and grow.

My wonderful chocolate kitty - Jordan, 1990-2006